Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Republican Branding Problem

I just read on Ace of Spaces that Mr. Charles Krauthammer proposes in a cover article a new tax on gasoline.

We have to seriously question the "branding" of talking heads. The crowd we have are not conservatives. There seems to be something in the water at the National Review and Weekly Standard.

This incident makes me doubt that Mr. Krauthammer would echo Mr. Reagan's sentiment that government is not the solution, but government is the problem. When talking heads start talking about raising taxes in anything but disparaging terms we have to think seriously about what exactly conservatism means.

If the Reagan Revolution is dead, I know one set of fingerprints on the knife in its back. It's not like I'm picking on Mr. Krauthammer (who I've previously been favorably inclined toward), we've got a systemic problem afflicting pretty much every commentator of note.

We should have known we were screwed when the first Republican said "big government conservatism" with a straight face. Mr. Tom Delay gave us fair warning when he said there was no fat in the federal budget to cut. Mr. Bush and Mr. Krauthammer may say many things we like on many topics, but we can't call them conservatives.

The "branding problem" of the Republican party goes deeper than the corruption of guys like Ted Stevens. It goes to the whole notion of what "conservatism" means. I'm not saying that the Republican party ought to kick out the big-government types, but we can't let such folk go around calling themselves conservatives.

You can be less liberal than Mao Tse Tung without being a conservative. I remember scoffing when some C-Span talking-head reported on what the "conservative blogs" were saying about the Republican Convention and she cited a demented fellow who might be many things, but he's no conservative.

So, I propose that we put every putative conservative on trial for actually being conservative. And if we find no evidence to convict, or significant evidence to the contrary, we quit acknowledging and start challenging any representation of that person as a conservative. This should start with both George Bushes extend to every politician and commentator in Washington and New York. We should say, "you're a very nice man, and a loyal Republican (John McCain excepted), but you're no Conservative (John McCain included).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Libertarianism vs Social Conservatism

I'm a Libertarian. And I'm a Social Conservative. There are a lot of parts of the Social Conservative bit I will die for. Other parts, I just say, "meh." And I don't think I'm the only Social Conservative who thinks this way.

1) Abortion: this is a human life in every instance and there's no chance I'll bend even a millimeter. I frame this as a human rights issue, not a moral one. The fetus is what? an animal? a tumor? a human without rights? a human with rights? Answer the question.

I'm not against stem cell research, either. I'm all for it unless you add the word "fetal." Fetal stem cell research by my way of looking at it is cannibalizing parts of one human for the benefit of another human. If you disagree, prove to me that a fetus isn't a human.

2) Sex, drugs, and rock & roll: meh. Who you take to bed is your business and not mine. If God says "thou shalt not," and you think otherwise, that's your problem with Him not me. Don't mess with the sacraments of any church or say what moral standards the church can't hold and we'll get along fine.

3) Prayer in school: meh. When I was a lad, my sainted mother the separatist Baptist Fundamentalist that she was thoroughly disapproved of the sort of compromised blended ecumenist prayers bandied about in public forums. That rubbed off on me.

Creationism and Intelligent Design (they are different things). I want free inquiry about questions of origins, but it's not a hill I'll die on. If you're upset that some state school wants to teach Darwinism, switch to a private school that doesn't.

Personally, I prefer the separation of school and state. Less opportunity for indoctrination or similar mischief.


Can we agree on these boundaries and live together in the same party? I think so. Maybe we won't go to the same church, or maybe we'll bicker on a personal level, but as far as the civil realm of governance is concerned we've got issues of the proper role of government (minimal) that we hold in common to unite us.

What would Reagan Do?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Broken Party

OK, I held my nose and voted for McCain. We've had a systemic problem with Republicanism for several years. The Republican party has demonstrated in the last two elections that it is broken. After the 2006 loss there was not enough done to fix the party. Why didn't the party leadership take a delivery from the clue train?

I'm not thinking we should kick anyone out of the party, but we've got to be smarter about who we're listening to. Ronald Reagan is dead. We need someone else who can speak articulately to small businessmen and libertarians and values voters without embarrassing the country-club set.

I think that we've seen country-club presidential candidates in both Bushes, Dole, and McCain. The civil war within the Republican Party is about to start. Mitt Romney strikes me as yet another country-club candidate. The bizarre whispers that Sarah Palin was a drag on the campaign or that she had "gone rogue" appear to have come from Romney stringers.

It is my earnest hope that Sarah Palin will emerge as the next leader of the Republican party. If not her, I'll look to another neo-Reagan like Bobby Jindal. I have a hard time believing that yet another country-club Republican can unite the party and assemble a winning coalition to reboot the Republican party.

I expect to see a lot more class-warfare in the next four years. Ronald Reagan effectively fought class-warfare because the guy from Dixon, IL positioned himself as the alternative to Rockefeller Republicanism. We'll need someone who isn't old money or married to it to lead us out of this Babylonian captivity. I don't think that person is Mitt Romney.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Who's John Galt?

Ayn Rand wrote a novel, Atlas Shrugged, that I read when the Soviet empire was imploding. It made perfect sense at the time as the events in the novel, depicted in the US, were mirrored in events in the Soviet Union.

What I didn't realize at the time was that the "strike" against the "looters" described in the Atlas Shrugged had already occurred in the United States. And that strike was only broken by the rise of Nazi Germany and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Consider the crash of 1929. It was a major correction as a market bubble popped. It also caused reverberations from Wall Street to Main Street. My grandparents were impoverished and my parents lived with the concern about another depression. My father's friend would invariably ask, "Do you think we'll have hard times, Don?" A generation of Baby Boomers learned to roll their eyes in response to exhortations to economize from their Depression-baby parents. Today, a lot of economists claim that the hard times were prolonged by our politicians response to the crisis.

Here's the problem. Economic corrections are painful and politicians are compassionate people. Yes, they're corrupt and self-serving in too many cases, but you'll never meet a politician who really doesn't feel your pain. And they want to relieve your pain if they can. They'll get reelected if they relieve your pain. Governments relieve economic pain by putting money into the hands of those who hurt most. This takes a number of forms: unemployment benefits, bailouts of critical industries, welfare, entitlements and college tuition grants. But some of these analgesics can be habit forming, like morphine they cause dependence. The greater the pain of an economic correction, the greater the likelihood that the government will be pressured to apply pain-killers. If pain-killers become addictions the electorate will demand more of them.

Governments can pass various laws, but they cannot repeal the law of gravity. They can set up rules for coordinating economic activities in an orderly fashion. But governments can't create wealth out of nothing. Governments can print money, borrow money, and raise taxes. This wealth can be given to those who are hurt by an economic correction. But this wealth is taken from someone. There's a book out there called "The Forgotten Man" about the Depression. I've not yet read it, but I suspect this book's "forgotten man" is not unlike John Galt of "Atlas Shrugged."

Someone has to create wealth and that's done by working. Tonight I watched the movie, "My Man Godfrey," wherein several pointed remarks are made about prosperity being right around the corner and "The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job." In a capitalist country, rich people need things done and they give jobs to people willing to do those things. Or you take what you have, and create a job out of it. In rich countries, those who work harder make more money and they spread the wealth around by buying stuff or hiring others. This is just common sense. It is deprecated by those wiser minds who call it "trickle down" and they hope to change this.

In this country we tax income but not wealth. This enables many wealthy people to live off their trust funds, and this frees up their time to do things like become Senators. This system is very good for maintaining the status quo. It makes it harder for new money to displace old money. This is what I realized when I was hanging out with Democrat community organizers who liked money and tax breaks as much as Republicans. If you're Ted Kennedy, you can stay rich and make everyone else pay for the goodies you buy votes with.

Certain Republicans who are wiser than I am (just ask them) say that the Reagan Revolution is dead. They think the Republican party should move to the center. They now think the McCain campaign that was crafted according to their design along these lines should be rebooted. These same Republicans claim that neo-Reaganism is a cancer to the Republican party. There's an old saying that seems apt, "It's not the mountains ahead of you that grind you down; it's the sand in your shoes." Mr. Brooks and those like him have been the sand in the Republican campaign this year.

The Republican party certainly has a branding problem. And it may not be the political party that is needed to oppose those who would grow an already bloated government and lead us further down "The Road To Serfdom."

I've never been consumed with blind ambition. Depending upon how the election turns out, ambition will only earn you a higher tax bracket. Should I go out on strike? Ask John Galt?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Can An Anchor Have Coattails?

Only one of two things are true: Either Barak Obama is a crypto-socialist, neo-stalinist goon due to his alliances with people like Mr. William Ayres, Mr. Jeremiah Wright & ACORN or "he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States." I do not see how both assertions can be true simultaneously.

In recent days, Mr. McCain has been running ads linking Mr. Obama to America-hating radicals. One is not guilty of anything for associating with such people. But alliances with such people form a reasonable basis for drawing inferences about a candidate's unstated policy aims and fitness for high office. However, these ads mean absolutely nothing if the candidate in question is "a decent person."

Given this contradiction, how do I know Mr. McCain won't similarly nullify any other part of the narrative he has crafted about his opponent's unfitness for office.

This is the central contradiction of the McCain campaign. Andy McCarthy at National Review said it here: "Someone is either a terrorist sympathizer or he isn't; someone is either disqualified as a terrorist sympathizer or he's qualified for public office."

It's Democracy, Stupid

I think organized criminal vote fraud is traitorous. It is an attack upon DEMOCRACY. We may disagree about taxes or abortion, but DEMOCRACY should transcend our partisan interests. If someone does not, then we really can't expect him to abide by elections he doesn't like. We have to ask every candidate for public office whether he believes in DEMOCRACY and whether that belief has anything to say about ACORN.

Every election year just before the election we get stories or larger and more widespread cases of vote fraud. These frauds aren't coming from First Baptist Church or the NRA, but from ACORN. I don't understand why this kind of organized crime isn't pursued by RICO charges? I don't understand why the government uses my tax dollars to support ACORN. I don't understand why the Congress tried to add pork from the $700B bailout package to ACORN.

Obviously, someone in Washington does not believe in Democracy

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


In the movie, "The Princess Bride," Inigo Montoya says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." I think the national conversation about Mrs. Sarah Palin and feminism is another instance of a word being used whose meaning is in doubt.

Feminism has an appeal because it touches upon fairness and equality. People are differently abled, but nobody is better or worse just because they're a man or woman, black or white, Jew or Greek. I've always thought feminism was about this sort of equality.

Rush Limbaugh coined the term feminazi some years ago to describe "liberal, pro-abortion fanatics." It should be noted that he intends by this usage not a synonym for "feminist," but he describes a specific set of political policy aims. Can you assert equality of the sexes without asserting liberal, pro-abortion policies?

Recently, Camile Paglia has written that Mrs. Palin is "reshaping the persona of female authority." Ms. Paglia is a feminist and an intellectual who enjoys straying from the establishment group-think about what constitutes feminism.

Perhaps we need to distinguish between "feminist" and "establishment feminist" to avoid Rush's feminazi term. Certainly, Mrs. Hillary Clinton is an establishment feminist, but she is no fanatic. But Mrs. Palin is not an establishment feminist.

What prompts this outburst is an essay that I read by someone named Katie Granju who does not like Mrs. Palin. More accurately, after acknowledging Mrs. Palin's accomplishments she thinks it wrong that Mrs. Palin act "like all of these opportunities and open doors just fell into her lap because of her own good luck and hard work." Ms. Granju seems to think that Mrs. Palin owes ideological fealty to establishment feminists. (This sense of "you owe me" is a great way to live a miserable life and become a miserable person.) Presumably brave Norma Rae was out there toiling in some factory, or brave Erin Brockovich was toiling in some legal aid office, or a dozen other brave movie scripts were written so that forever after, all ambitious women would kneel and kiss the ring of establishment feminists.

Feminism's legitimacy comes from equality. However, establishment feminists seem to think that they are more equal than other women. It is fair to include or exclude people from the abortion movement based upon their pro-choice vs pro-life positions. But equality is not abortion. And equality must also be between women, too.

Establishment feminism is a postmodern phenomenon, as such it is preoccupied with power. Equality and power are often conflated in this case. Thus establishment feminism encounters an existential threat when an empowered woman does not share their policy aims. Her very existence suggests that a woman needs an establishment feminist like a fish needs a bicycle. I think this explains Palin Derangement Syndrome.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Follow The Money

As anyone in America knows, $700 billion dollars are going to bail out the toxic loans of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Since this is campaign season, each party is trying to lay the blame for this mess on the other party.

You can spend hours listening to the various news outlets blather about who did what and when and why it happened.

Or you can follow the money.

Just. Follow. The. Money.

Persons unknown to the public screwed the pooch at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Since these are government sponsored entities, Congress is charged with their oversight. Happily, for certain congressmen (but not for taxpayers), Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae contributed campaign donations. Large donations.

Here's what I propose. Any politician who has accepted one dime from either Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae should be voted against. Period. If both candidates for an office have accepted bribes campaign contributions from them, the candidate receiving more should be voted against. The following table should prove helpful:

1. Dodd, Christopher J $133,900

2. Kerry, John $111,000

3. Obama, Barack $105,849

4. Clinton, Hillary $75,550

5. Kanjorski, Paul E $65,500

6. Bennett, Robert F $61,499

7. Johnson, Tim $61,000

8. Conrad, Kent $58,991

9. Davis, Tom $55,499

10. Bond, Christopher S 'Kit' $55,400

11. Bachus, Spencer $55,300

12. Shelby, Richard C $55,000

13. Emanuel, Rahm $51,750

14. Reed, Jack $50,750

15. Carper, Tom $44,389

16. Frank, Barney $40,100

17. Maloney, Carolyn B $38,750

18. Bean, Melissa $37,249

19. Blunt, Roy $36,500

20. Pryce, Deborah $34,750

21. Miller, Gary $33,000

22. Pelosi, Nancy $32,750

23. Reynolds, Tom $32,700

24. Hoyer, Steny H $30,500

25. Hooley, Darlene $28,750

Don't take my word for this, I got this here. If, sometime between now and election day, anyone tries to lay blame on anybody, I suggest you simply follow the money. If you plan on voting for anyone listed above, just hand them $700G and cut out the middleman.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Dangerous Lightweight?

Sometime last week the narrative reached the right wing commentator, Kathleen Parker that Sarah Palin was just Caribou Barbie: she ought not be running for Vice President and who was dragging down the McCain campaign and ought to pull an Eagleton.

Now, like Peggy Noonan before her, Ms. Parker has eaten some crow. In particular, Ms. Parker states of Mrs. Palin, "to Democrats, she’s still a dangerous lightweight..." which raises the question? If Mrs. Palin is a lightweight, how can she be dangerous?

I had a conversation with my neighbor when I put a McCain-Palin sign in my front yard. (I had foregone putting any Republican signs in my yard until I could get one with Mrs. Palin's name on it.) He announced with glee that Mr. McCain had pulled out of Michigan and thought that significant. He is probably correct at that point. But when I mentioned my support for Mrs. Palin, he said, "She knows nothing."

Very well, if she knows nothing, she should pose no threat to anyone with "D" next to their name, correct?

But my neighbor was not finished with Mrs. Palin. He said, "You know she's a Pentacostal. She supports Israel. She wants Armageddon to force the Second Coming." Now, I doubt that my neighbor recognized the naked religious bigotry in his assertion. I suppose that if Mrs. Palin's middle name were "Hussein" it might be different. But I gave him a pass, going after the sheer ignorance and falseness of this representation of premillenial eschatology. I am a premillenialist Christian and I find this canard of the left utterly ridiculous. If you think this way, you don't know what you're talking about. Christians who speak of the imminent return of Jesus Christ do so to warn that one must always be ready to meet one's maker and give account of one's life. The point is that God is in the driver's seat, not the other way around. But I digress.

I dislike this line of rhetoric: seeking not only the political defeat of someone whose opinions you contradict, but their personal destruction. I've come close to this myself, comparing Mr. Obama with Steve Urkel and contrasting him with John Shaft. I plan to vote against Mr. Obama because he advances policies I dislike and I plan to vote for Mrs. Palin because she advances policies I support.

By moving away from the policies of the candidates to their personal attributes, we set for ourselves a trap. When we speak of policies, we can more easily remain civil in our conversations. On the other hand, when we say the other guy is an empty suit, the other guy will speak of lipstick on a pig, and the conversation goes downhill very quickly. In conversation with my neighbor, most of my replies were, "Oh really?" and "Is that so?" while believing none of it. I don't think my neighbor realizes how close his assertions came to 1930s style antisemitism, or sexism and ageism of more recent vintage. But they got past his civility filter because he'd gone past policy into the ad hominem.

This isn't new. Mrs. Palin is getting the full Ronald Reagan treatment. And the left is tacking very close to the wind while doing this. If she's a lightweight, she can't be dangerous. But if she's worthy of the vitriol we've seen since her nomination for Vice President, someone must regard her as very dangerous. She has proved articulate and she manages to say things I haven't heard from a Republican candidate since Mr. Reagan left public life.

I'm not altogether convinced that Mrs. Palin's enemies are limited to those with "D"s next to their name. This year is not completely unlike 1976 and someone who so channels Ronald Reagan will find few friends in the Nelson Rockefeller wing of the party. One wonders what would have happened had Gerald Ford made Ronald Reagan his running mate. My hopes are that Mrs. Palin is more dangerous than lightweight.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Come On. He's Just A Kid

Recently, Mrs. Sarah Palin's email was "hacked" and the contents of her email account was disclosed publicly. This is a violation of law and the perpetrator of this crime is suspected to be Mr. David Kernell, a student at the University of Tennessee and the son of an elected official. Though Mr. Kernell remains innocent until proven guilty, the case against him seems strong enough to move the press to opine that the perpetrator is just a kid. The presumption is that youthful exuberance and bad judgment should excuse this act as a childish prank.

Though I am inclined toward mercy in most cases, I note that Mr. Kernell is old enough to serve in the military. At this moment, US servicemen are operating SIGINT listening posts around the world monitoring the communications of America's enemies. These servicemen are not older than Mr. Kernell (though they may be more mature). When telephone calls between foreign nationals were routed through switches located in the US, the NSA sought to intercept them using personnel no older than Mr. Kernell. This caused a great deal of angry discussion about the legality of doing so. Had any of these intercept operators disclosed the contents of these communications, they'd soon find lodging in a federal penitentiary.

Mr. G. Gordon Liddy knows something of federal penitentiaries. He was lodged therein after doing the 1970s equivalent of Mr. Kernell's hacking, bugging a telephone. If Mr. Kernell is found guilty, but only gets a wrist-slap would this give a green light to a Renaissance of Watergate-style political black ops? Worse, if the seriousness of the infraction does not rise to the level of prosecution, political operatives will take this as license to invade anyone's privacy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Carly, You're So Vain

You probably think this essay is about you.

One of the sources of unease I've felt with the Republican Presidential candidate this season has been his association with Carly Fiorina. I don't know Ms. Fiorina and have supposed she's a nice person. However, I've noticed that the quality of Hewlett Packard has declined markedly in the last few years. When HP bought out Compaq it didn't seem like a smart move to me, but I'm far enough removed that I had no basis for that opinion.

Then there was a huge fight within HP over Ms. Fiorina's leadership. The last I'd heard of her was her forced eviction from the company. Of course, a lot of damage was already done and someone else had to clean up after. I had supposed that would be the last I'd hear from Ms. Fiorina.

So, when Ms. Fiorina insinuated herself into the McCain Campaign as some kind of economics guru, I felt a vague discomfort. Her involvement seemed like a bad move, but I couldn't definitively say why.

Yesterday I discovered why. You have to have very poor business judgment to say that your boss is unqualified to run a business. After all, he made the business decision to hire you.

This creates one of those rare situations where we can know something certainly: Either Mr. McCain is unqualified to run a business and his hiring decision of Ms. Fiorina validates that decision (making her stupid) OR Mr. McCain is indeed qualified to run a business whereupon Ms. Fiorina's assertions are false (making her a liar). We do not know whether Mr. McCain is qualified or not, but we do know Ms. Fiorina is either stupid or a liar. Hence we conclude that HP was correct to remove Ms. Fiorina from leadership.

Update: It appears that a businessman who is considerably more successful than Ms. Fiorina would be willing to hire either Mr. McCain or Mrs. Palin to run a business. It should be noted that Mr. Romney's business experience is more apropos to gauging fitness to run a business than Ms. Fiorina. This further vindicates the opinion of the HP board that fired her. Why yes, this does speak ill of Mr. McCain's judgment to associate himself with Ms. Fiorina.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

With Apologies to Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be Sarah Palin!

Two Sorts Of Feminism

I just read this article describing a speech by Newt Gingrich. According to the Washington Times:

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Friday that Sarah Palin represents a "threat" to modern feminism and to Democrat Barack Obama's quest for the presidency, and that is why the "elite media" is trying to tear her down.

"Governor Palin violates every norm they have: she is tough, she is smart, she is articulate, she is happy, she has five kids, she has a very hardworking husband who is a union member, she is an NRA life member, she actually goes to church and prays. The list just gets worse," he said.

Perhaps I'm quibbling semantics, but when you make a woman the 2nd banana of the most powerful country in the world, you're not undermining girl power. This is hardly a blow to women or a threat to women's rights. To the contrary, Mrs. Palin is poised to become the personification of equality between the sexes. I'd rather vote for her for President than for Veep.

If you let the girl drive, she has the steering wheel and she gets to decide which way she turns. This is feminism by definition. In this sense Mr. Gingrich's assertion that Mrs. Palin is a threat to feminism is wrong.

But there is a difference between feminism by definition and feminism by tradition and convention. (By this I mean conventions and traditions that have been adopted only since the early 1970s.) Traditionally and conventionally feminism started with bra burning and eschewing cosmetics. Traditional and conventional feminism regards the unplanned pregnancy as a curse and children as a punishment. This form of feminism is typified by the spinster scold. The sort of person Rush Limbaugh calls the feminazi.

In this second sense Mr. Gingrich is right, Mrs. Palin is a threat to traditional/conventional feminism. I suspect that after five children she doesn't share Catharine MacKinnon's notion that all consensual sex between husband and wife is rape. Mrs. Palin has demonstrated her pro-life convictions when she gave birth to a disabled child and when her daughter got "in trouble." Both "problems" are easily be solved by abortion.

It is a sham to claim that women should be empowered, but then require every woman to toe the Democrat party line and/or the radicalized agenda of a self-appointed elite of Womon's Studies professors.

A persistent slander that has been heaped upon Conservatives by traditional/conventional feminists is that we hate women. No, we hate some policy aims of some women. Ask any Conservative if he'd vote for Margaret Thatcher and the answer would be YES!!!

Some traditional/conventional feminists who realize that any power placed in Sarah Palin's hands would undermine their policy aims are now claiming that Mrs. Palin is not a woman. She can't be: she is a mother, and men find her attractive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Astroturfing The Insubstantial

I just saw this on National Review.

When several liberal bloggers all choose to spotlight one particular news report by an Alaska CBS affiliate, one begins to wonder if we're seeing a coordinated message. Adding to Dean's observation, it sure is strange the way the liberal blogs all spotlight the same obscure story at the same time, huh?

I think it is significant because I've been thinking about the contrasting warfighting strategies of Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain. Astroturfing is nothing new and I suppose it is not unique to Mr. Obama's campaign. Francis Schaeffer once said that you shouldn't ascribe to a conspiracy the coordinated actions of a bunch of people who are all in lockstep as far as their worldviews are concerned. Thus, a few people can easily receive and forward the same choice tips that exactly fits their mental picture of the world.

Nevertheless, it appears that there are two or three channels of negative information coming from the Obama campaign about Mrs. Palin. The first is directly from the campaign and it mentions all the things a liberal Democrat would dislike about a conservative Republican. As such it's a fairly straightforward matter of attack and wholly cricket. But then there are the less-than-direct attacks which are troublesome. The rather childish, petulant insults like discussing Hillary with middle finger extended or referring to lipstick-wearing pigs are really beneficial for the window into Mr. Obama's character that they provide. I was upset yesterday, but today I'm grateful for this disclosure.

However, the astroturfing is troublesome. If you've a story you can't shop, or that would generate significant blowback, you can release it to your fellow-travelers and count on them to muddy the waters. Consider former mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, who announced his opposition to Mrs. Palin on the basis of a demonstrably false story about book-banning in a public library. I think Mr. Koch should oppose Mrs. Palin according to his beliefs and values, but he ought not support his decision upon a falsehood. I don't think Mr. Koch even knew he was deceived until long after the fact.

We've got to have a grasp on reality if we're to function in this world. When lies are your stock-in-trade, I think it distances you from reality. This may yield some short-team pleasantness, but it can be long-term harmful. And if you overdose on lies, you have blowback that can kill you.

Now, it appears that the Obama campaign believes that one can make a negative impression about Mrs. Palin if a particular CBS affiliate's news story is aired, but they're afraid there's not enough substance to it. Fritz Mondale once said, "where's the beef," and the Obama team must not have sufficient faith in this line of attack to man up and put it out there directly. Mrs. Palin had no problem directly attacking Mr. Obama in her convention speech. Why are her Democrat opponents not similarly direct?

If you punch me in the nose, I'll hate you but I'll respect you. Conversely, if you try to stab me in the back, I'll both hate and disrespect you. Mr. Obama has never faced big-league pitching and it shows.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Steven Quincy Urkel for President?

Mr. Barak Obama said that when you put lipstick on a pig, its still a pig. Now, any one of the 40 million people who saw the Republican Vice Presidential acceptance speech recalls the joke about how a hockey mom differs from a pit bull. (Yes, he also deniably called Mr. McCain an old fish, but I'm not on about that.)

It does not require the intelligence commonly claimed by a Democrat candidate for national office to connect the lipstick allusions. Isn't that clever? Mr. Obama didn't actually call Mrs. Palin a pig. Haw haw haw. When someone complains about the attack tomorrow, he'll deny it and everyone who doesn't accept this will look petty. Mr. Obama flipped the bird at Mrs. Clinton earlier this year in a similarly deniable fashion. It must have taken the brain the size of a planet to come up with that trick.

Or a sixth grader. You know, the guy you eventually got fed up with and gave a wedgie to. There's a word for this: passive-aggression. It's what gelded males do around females who have cowed them. It's the standard operating procedure for men without chests.

When Mrs. Palin went after Mr. Obama in her acceptance speech, she manfully launched a frontal attack. There were no childish petty snipes she might deny the next day. There was an arrogance in her sarcasm, not unlike that of Mr. Mohamed Ali who really was the greatest. (Mr. Obama has the arrogance of the Emperor/Messiah with no clothes. He has everyone in the Washington DC Beltway convinced that his hopey/changey/whatever is just so marvelous that only provincial bumpkins doubt its substance.)

When Mrs. Palin pointed out that someone has to have an awfully thin resume to count such a bogus gig as "community organizer," Mr. Obama whimpered the next day that the mean girl was hitting him: She used... sarcasm. She knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and… satire. She was vicious. In this world there are producers and there are consumers. Community organizers are not producers. Look at all the jobs Mr. Obama didn't create in his community. Someone has said that "Jesus was a community organizer." My Bible says he was a carpenter.

Contrast this with snippy, mincing references to pigs and lipstick. Or a thousand astroturfed smears about Mrs. Palin and her family by anonymous bloggers whose IPs track back to Democrat operatives. Yeah, that's the kind of guy we want standing up to America's enemies. That'll scare them.

When I vote for a black guy President he's gonna be John Shaft, not Steve Urkel.

Update: I suppose that passive-aggression is altogether fitting to a disciple of Mr. Saul Alinsky. I happened upon this essay wherein this paragraph appears:

His creed was set out in his book ‘Rules for Radicals’ – a book he dedicated to Lucifer, whom he called the ‘first radical’. It was Alinsky for whom ‘change’ was his mantra. And by ‘change’, he meant a Marxist revolution achieved by slow, incremental, Machiavellian means which turned society inside out. This had to be done through systematic deception, winning the trust of the naively idealistic middle class by using the language of morality to conceal an agenda designed to destroy it. And the way to do this, he said, was through ‘people’s organisations’.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Saul Alinsky vs John Boyd

Here's a lens through which to view the current political conflict. On one side is a fellow whose first job out of college was community organizer. On the other side is a fellow whose first job out of college was fighter pilot. Each appears to have brought this experience to the fight.

It is wrong to accuse Barak Obama of having no experience. He was a community organizer. I served on the board of a neighborhood association in the early 1980s and have met a few. However, my experience was insufficient to become acquainted with their guru, Saul Alinsky and his book Rules For Radicals. However, I now recognize the pattern of conflict followed by his disciples. I am confident that Mr. Obama learned Mr. Alinsky's lessons as well as did Mr. Obama's rival, Mrs. Hillary Clinton. Better, seeing as how both worked from the same playbook and Mr. Obama won.

Before that, Mr. Obama's greatest achievement was winning his Senate seat. He was quite lucky when the judge unsealed Mr. Ryan's divorce papers. Mr. Ryan was ahead in the polls at the time. But you make your luck and we'll never know exactly how this lucky break came about. Perhaps someone more familiar with Mr. Alinsky's book could say.

The other party is headed by a fellow I've written about in the past as mere media hoax. He was so out of touch with my wing of the party, so hostile toward the religious right, so prone to sell out Republican interests, and so quick to kowtow to the media elites that I thought it impossible that he could inspire loyalty in the Republican Party. Obviously, I was wrong.

Before Mr. McCain became a POW he was a fighter pilot. Fighter pilots kill Communists.

They did so over North Korea and over North Vietnam with lopsided kill-ratios thanks to the fighting doctrines taught by USAF Colonel John Boyd. The key notion in Mr. Boyd's way is the OODA loop. In any dogfight, each pilot must do the same four things: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. The participants in a dogfight will loop through these steps, and the winner invariably manages to "get inside the other guy's OODA loop." A fighter ace kills the other guy because when he's inside his OODA loop, the other guy is always responding to a stale situation. During the "Observe and Orient" steps the pilot forms a mental picture of reality. During the "Act" step the pilot changes reality. If I'm inside your OODA loop, I'm changing the situation faster than you can decide what to do that'll save yourself and/or kill me.

It is widely documented that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and George Bush were all "misunderestimated" by their political opponents. Though I don't think Mr. Bush was or is a Conservative, each of these politicians were never understood by their political opponents. And each of these politicians managed to run rings around their adversaries. They each had this stealth shield spell of confusion that addled their enemies' wits. It's hard to Observe and Orient when your brain can't grok who your opponent is.

Since the Friday before Labor Day it appears that Mrs. Palin has transformed Barak Obama from Emperor/Messiah into Wyle E. Coyote, Sooooper Genius. Look at all the narrative attacks that have been spun about her and none have come close to touching her. Can this mean that someone is serially faking the drive-by media elites out of their jock-straps? Has Team McCain gotten inside Team Obama's OODA loop?

Maybe, and maybe it doesn't matter. Elections are zero-sum games, just like dogfights: one guy wins and one guy loses. Except in dogfights losing is usually much worse for your health. But elections are a form of politics and I don't know whether Mr. Alinky's tactics (which are native to politics) are more effective than Mr. Boyd's tactics.

Update: for a better analysis of Team McCain's fighting strategy go here. If you happen to agree with Mr. McMain's side, you need to get your head around this:

McCain's undoing of the elite, leftist media provides a universal lesson for contending with the Left. At base, the Left's ideology, whether relating to women's rights, human rights, academic inquiry or war and peace is not universal but tribal. Moreover, when the Left is challenged on any one of its signature issues, because it cannot actually make a case for the universal applicability or even logic of its views, it tends instead to embrace the politics of personal destruction while ignoring the obvious contradictions between its stated beliefs and actual behavior.

WHY things are this way have to do with the nature of post-modernism and its notion of truth and absolutes.

Another Update: Another OODA loop analysis of the current conflict.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Grace and Works and Gratitude

I've a friend who's a good Catholic. Last week he expressed curiosity about how Baptists and more generally Protestants stay on the straight-and-narrow. I failed to give a good answer and this is an attempt to put my understanding into words. Keep in mind that I'm not any ecclesiastical authority and whatever I say should be checked against scripture. Don't take my word for any of this. Check it out for yourself.

First off, I'm Reformed enough to think that God saves sinners. Sinners don't save themselves or accept any power-assist or make any leveraged deals for grace. My state outside grace is like a dead man completely incapable of doing anything acceptable to God. Some disagree, thinking there may be some unfallen spark of desire for God that must be fanned into flame. But I don't.

However, I believe that when a human presents to another human the good news of the gospel and calls upon a sinner (we're all sinners by birth) to repent & believe, God chooses to add his effectual call of the Holy Spirit to the message. Quite frankly, I believe every Christian starts his Christianity with a miracle of resurrection in a spiritual sense. Before that, everyone is disinterested in the God that Is and is anxious to either get away or substitute something he finds more acceptable.

When God goes "zot" like this, the sinner brings nothing to the transaction but his sin, his desire/promise to not-sin, and his belief that God will forgive him. Where I show I'm uber-Reformed is that I think the expressions of belief, the repentence, and the faith are all RESULTS of grace, not CAUSES of grace.

So, at this point my Catholic friend asks, "So, why do good after this?"

I was reminded of this question last Sunday. The preacher spoke of the merit of Christ and the imputation of his righteousness, his merit to the believer in exchange for the believer's sins. And after that we live in the power of Christ to do good.

I nudged my wife and whispered, "why?"

The answer I didn't give my Catholic friend, but that I did give my wife is "gratitude."

Gratitude is the only reason any Christian should ever do any good thing. Keep in mind two things, we've asked God to save us from our sins, which means we want to be rid of them. Second, God provides this grace free of charge and I think God is offended by any attempt to pay for it via religious activities. So, I've got this debt of gratitude that is infinite in extent. I'm not obligated to pay it off, but I think it is only fitting for a Christian to keep this in mind. When there's some little sacrifice I'm called upon to do, I compare it with the sacrifice of Christ on my behalf. It's only fitting to do what I can as an expression of gratitude.

I think that as long as I realize that nothing I'm doing is getting me to heaven, or keeping me in the boat, but that everything's in God's hands, there is no room for vanity. When Jesus spoke of the Pharisee and he Tax Collector and how they prayed, the Pharisee seems altogether too satisfied with his spiritual state. He's grateful for not being like the guy next to him, but the Christian's gratitude must run much deeper. We're all sinners, and just because I'm a nice guy right now, that doesn't mean all the bad things i did in the past are inoperative. There's more than the moral delta between Pharisee & Publican, there's the delta between absolute perfection as lived by Jesus and my own sinful state. I've got to remind myself how much I've been given to properly assess a fitting extent of gratitude toward Christ.

Why be good? Because it's the least I can do.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Another Day, Another Sarah Palin Spin

The mainstream media and Democrat operatives, as good post-modernists, cannot change the facts of the world, but they can frame those facts to suggest their preferred interpretation of them.

Fact: John McCain nominated Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

Spin Attempt #1: She's the second coming of Dan Quayle. Like Mr. Quayle, nobody who mattered knew her and she wasn't a regular on the Sunday thumb-sucker shows. And she can't be qualified, otherwise our masters in the Beltway would have lunched with her and would tell us so.

However, Mrs. Palin failed to cooperate by responding to bright lights like a deer in the headlights. (This might have something to do with her beauty pageant experience.)

Spin Attempt #2: She's trailer trash with too much hair, too many kids, and her youngest is probably the fruit of an incestuous union between her husband and her daughter.

The conspiracy theories to support the latter hypothesis utterly buggered belief and couldn't pass the laugh test. All they did was to make the extra-chromosome wing (Al Gore's words) of the Republican party, i.e. me, furious. (Why yes, I have gone back to calling myself a Republican.)

Spin Attempt #3: (whispered) She's a bad mother with an out-of-control 17-year old daughter, taking dangerous risks flying on airplanes (imagine that, airplanes) while pregnant, and doing G-d-knows-what in the Governor's office while she should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

This also failed because Democrats can't keep a straight face when they say a wommon's place is in the home. To add insult to injury, the Religious Right failed to drop her like a hot potatoe when they learned of daughter's out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Spin Attempt #4: OK, Sarah Palin is beleaguered from all of the above and is really Thomas Eagleton, v2.0 and the Republicans will come to their senses and drop her from the ticket.

Then Mrs. Palin gave a speech that a lot of people watched (to find out what all the buzz was about). It's hard to maintain 37 million instances of the "who you going to believe, me or your lying eyes" narrative. Meanwhile, a lot of Republicans remembered how tasty red meat is and are now saying they'll vote for Sarah Palin and that guy with her.

Spin Attempt #5: [speaking of the messiah] Sarah Palin used... sarcasm. She knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and... satire. She was vicious.

Well, being the "attack dog" of the ticket is the main job responsibility of the Veep. Obambi was in her sights and she put lead on target.

This brings us to now.

Spin Attempt #6: Sarah Palin is Spiro T. Agnew v2.0. Given the poisoned atmosphere of recent rumor-mongering and hard-to-deny media-bias, she's going to make the campaign all about the press bias and Leave Obama Alone! Please, please, Leave Obama Alone! Leave Obama Alone! Call us nattering nabobs of negativity, please. Leave Obama Alone! Call us an effete corp of snobs. Leave Obama Alone! Please!

Here's a bit of meta-analysis. When the story changes each day, you don't have to pay much attention to it, or take it particularly seriously, because it'll be different tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I've got a suspicion that doesn't have sufficient data to support it. Mrs. Palin appears to have a track record of taking on powerful enemies and hanging tough against them. Something had to sustain her through the viciousness of this last week's attacks upon her family from the ends-justify-the-means left. You might call her an Iron Lady, but that title is currently held by Dame Margaret Thatcher. Don't take my word for it. Just keep your eyes open and we'll see.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Peggy Noonan's Got Some 'Splainin' To Do

This afternoon I read Ms. Peggy Noonan's essay touting the Republican line about Mr. McCain's Vice-Presidential selection of Mrs. Sarah Palin. However, her off-mike conversation with Mike Murphy and some MSNBC talking-head includes her uttering these words:

“It’s over… They went for this, excuse me, political bull**** about narratives. Every time Republicans do that… they blow it.”

With this in mind, consider what she wrote:

Because she jumbles up so many cultural categories, because she is a feminist not in the Yale Gender Studies sense but the How Do I Reload This Thang way, because she is a woman who in style, history, moxie and femininity is exactly like a normal American feminist and not an Abstract Theory feminist; because she wears makeup and heels and eats mooseburgers and is Alaska Tough, as Time magazine put it; because she is conservative, and pro-2nd Amendment and pro-life; and because conservatives can smell this sort of thing -- who is really one of them and who is not -- and will fight to the death for one of their beleaguered own; because of all of this she is a real and present danger to the American left, and to the Obama candidacy.

She could become a transformative political presence.

So they are going to have to kill her, and kill her quick.

And it's going to be brutal. It's already getting there.

I'm not too sure how to interpret Ms. Noonan's written opinions in light of her presumably candid remarks. Did she knowingly write something her audience would like to hear to provide some boob bait for the bubbas? Or should I instead take pains to recall that Ms. Noonan included herself in the class of people she describes here:

Let me say of myself and almost everyone I know in the press, all the chattering classes and political strategists and inside dopesters of the Amtrak Acela Line: We live in a bubble and have around us bubble people. We are Bubbleheads.

Bubbleheads. Yes. I think that best harmonizes the oral and written record.

Update: Ms. Noonan attempts to harmonize her written and spoken words here. Make of it what you will.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Democrats Without Chests

The Catholic journal "First Things" has news of recent statements by Democrat activists that give pause. Now, I would not think the remarks so significant had I not been on vacation this last weekend whereupon I had occasion to reread my copy of the C.S. Lewis novel, That Hideous Strength.

Civil discourse requires the interlocutors to put their partisan aims under something larger than themselves. The ancient Greeks of Plato's Dialogs thought that Reason, qua, Reason must be ultimate. Theists in general must put the will of God over their own will to power. Historically, American political conflicts have taken place within the framework of the Constitution. When that framework proved inadequate Civil War took a half-million lives on its battlefields.

We have recently seen low-life's who would have a hard time knowing which end the round comes out of a gun proclaiming their willingness to perpetrate any crime to bring about the "greater good" as they see it. Happily, all of the NRA members are on the other side of this debate. The First Things essay speaks of bloodshed. I don't think we've come to that.

I think that if someone publicly says that he believes the ends justify any means necessary, remember that this includes violating the Constitution, the Bible, the Koran, the laws of the land, and the rules of civil discourse. You should believe his every utterance to be a lie until someone you know to believe in absolutes confirms it and you ought to attach the maximum skepticism to it when you hear it repeated. The "big lie" theory depends upon it being repeated so widely that people lose track of its source.

That Hideous Strength is a story of how men without chests find themselves completely unprepared to handle evil. The antagonists start with things that seem good, but take this same "ends justify the means" approach. The result are a few lies to "cut the red tape" and those lies are doubled and tripled until all correspondence between words and reality is lost. What meaning is communicated grows more and more vague. In the climactic confrontation between N.I.C.E. and Merlin all meaning is lost.

There are no policy goals so valuable that lying about them is justified. There are no policy goals that destroying innocent people is justified. If you think otherwise, I will not trust you and we cannot have a civil discussion.

Monday, August 11, 2008

An Answer and A Question

This afternoon a colleague was attempting to add an image to his WPF application. What made this unusual was that he wanted to get the image from a resource cooked into an assembly. This was not particularly straightforward to do.

The image itself was in c:\dev\project\framework\IntranetFramework\Content\Images\CSiLogo.png. And we were putting into the IntranetFramework assembly. That seemed to go straightforwardly, but there arose a problem when we went to use it.

Ultimately we added to the xaml file the following:


What's interesting is the syntax that we had difficulty getting right. Don't forget the initial "slash" followed by the assembly name delimited by semi-colon followed by "component" followed by the path within the project's directory tree to the image in question.

It took a fair amount of googling to add the "/" and the "component/" to the image source attribute.

You might keep that in mind if you're struggling with something like this.

It was my friend who did all the work, but I just sat watching. When I thought I understood what he did, I did likewise with a different image file I added to the project and then added to another xaml. Everything the same except the different filename.

It didn't work. Then my friend told me what he'd done before I dropped by. He added the image file to the project as a Resource, then immediately deleted it again. Whereupon my version started working. I don't exactly know why; I figure it's a bug in Visual Studio 2008's WPF code generator. If anybody figures it out, please add a comment explaining it.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Whereupon Stoicism Ensued

Last night I walked out of a writers' group that I attend and was surprised. I'm quite anxious about a party I'm throwing tonight and so I've been watching the weather all week. I watch weather more closely nowadays because I ride my scooter to and fro. It's a great way to go. You're outside with the wind in your hair. When I scooter into work you can tell because I'm grinning all day.

This week it rained Monday morning so I drove and grumbled to work, but the weather said it'd be iffy Tuesday and Thursday, but sunny Wednesday. I scootered to work in wonderful weather and then rode to my writers' group, but I noted a bit of cloud cover. When the group broke up last night, I stepped outside and felt a couple drops sprinkling on me. Instead of loitering and chatting, I bid my farewells and scooted.

My writers' group meets in downtown Grand Rapids and I live in the northeast suburbs. It's about a five mile ride to get home. I started out and after a block the rain was pouring down.

You can tell when I go past on my scooter because I've got a grin on my face. Last night the grin became a grimace. I got as far as Fuller avenue and noticed my scooter lacks the power to climb the hill on Fuller faster than about 15 mph. I was soaked to the skin with almost the entire ride ahead of me. And there was a traffic snag at Fuller and Lake. It is a very low feeling to sit in a downpour waiting for traffic when you've got most of your ride ahead of you.

After a few cycles of the streetlight, I got moving again and the rain was now a full downpour. Hard to see. I was driven to distraction by the fear of an unseen pothole opening before me, and also the fear that my tires would lose traction. Thus I proceeded more slowly as some light hail joined the downpour. Thus I proceeded until I was 2/3rds of the way home.

On Plymouth avenue there is an overpass. I sheltered there and tried unsuccessfully to dry my goggles. You can't dry goggles when everything you have is soaked. After a few minutes of laboring in vain, I proceeded home.

Upon turning onto my street, I noticed the road beneath the trees was dry and that the rain was letting up. The rain ended as I drove into my garage.

My wife met me with great sympathy and she helped me strip. My shirt and undershirt and backpack came off to begin their process of making puddles on the hallway floor. I got in the shower, but before I did I tried to wring water out of my underwear: the item of clothing I thought would be the last to be soaked. I got a fair amount of water out.

The shower was hot and I enjoyed the sensation. I was safe and warm. A few minutes later I had changed into dry clothes and this ordeal was past tense. I tease my Prius-driving friend about how I use less gas and have a lot more fun than he does. I figure that when he reads this he'll feel some measure of vindication.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Weber Gas Grill Pizza

I have an aging Weber Silver gas grill. It's a nice day today, but a bit hot and humid. On a couple occasions when my wife has been busy, I've wanted to get Papa Murphy's pizza, but I didn't want to heat up the house with pizza baking.

What to do?

I got my pizza stone out and placed it in the center of my cold gas grill. Then I put the spurs to it, getting my grill as hot as it would go. It topped out around 500 degrees, less when the breeze kicked up. When I guessed the pizza stone was at thermal equilibriuum, I put the first pizza on. Gave it 10 minutes, then opened the grill a crack to see if it looked OK. It did. Gave it five more minutes. Should have given it one or two more. The top was nicely browned, but I was anxious about the crust in the center. Another minute would have addressed that.

I almost lost the pizza taking it off the grill/pizza stone. I used a half-sheet pan instead of a peel. Note to self, buy a peel.

Second pizza was a thinner gourmet pizza. The pizza stone was at temperature by that time and I gave it more time. I was rewarded with more GBD (gold, brown, delicious) on the top and the crust was a perfect shade of brown.

And all that heat of pizza baking is outside on my deck.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Check Your Premises

I'm told that Ayn Rand was wont to tell people to check their premises. With this in mind, I recently read this essay. The essayist angrily accuses a large group of people of being irrational in their response to the mishandling of a cracker. I agree that it is irrational for people to get upset about a cracker.

However, there's more to this story than just a cracker. I do not believe in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. But I do understand the doctrine. In short, it claims that the elements of the Lord's Supper, bread and whine, are transformed by the priest's recitation of the rite into the body and blood of Christ.

It is one thing to mishandle a cracker. It is another thing to mishandle the body of Christ. Whereas the essayist signifies the flap as concerning a cracker, millions of Catholics and Orthodox Christians would claim what was once a cracker is no longer a cracker. To them, the flap is over desecration of the body of Christ. If you desecrate a cracker it is one thing, but if you desecrate the body of Christ that is another thing entirely.

Catholic ire is premised upon the mishandling of the body of Christ. The essayist chooses not to recognize the significance of Christ in the elements of the Lord's Supper.

A Catholic friend who pointed this essay out to me is greatly exercised at the essayist's insensitivity. And I sympathize with him. He also made dark hints that violence might be directed against the desecration.

I don't believe in transubstantiation. But if I did, I would not be as ired as the Catholics seem to be. Christ is either living or dead; either capable of taking care of himself or powerless beyond the activism of his Church. I happen to believe in the former.

In Old Testament times, the prophets of Ba'al contested with the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel. The contest was simple: Here's an altar with a sacrifice upon it, let the deity that really exists set it afire. As you may recall, the prophets of Ba'al got themselves into a lather to no effect, whereas Elijah poured water on the altar and made sure that only God could get the credit. And then fire came from heaven and burnt everything up. In this we see contrasted the religion of dead idols and the religion of a living God.

Thus, I see Christ as more than capable of protecting himself from, or responding forcefully to, any desecration. I think members of the Roman church are responsible to take every reasonable measure to maintain the integrity of their rites and relics. But this stops short of unethical measures. Islam is the religion of riots and murders over a rumored desecration.

This reminds me of another situation where people attach different significances objects. Consider a cluster of a few thousand cells. I've a pro-abortion friend who considers this cluster of a few thousand cells "a bit of goo." Conversely, when this cluster of cells is a fetus I regard it as constituting a human being with rights. I was pro-choice until I signified the fertilized ovum as a distinct human life whereupon I became pro-life.

I think that people who think that fetuses are humans with rights are obligated to take every reasonable measure to secure the rights of such powerless individuals. But this stops short of bombing abortion clinics or shooting abortionists. Such actions are not pro-life.

Partisan arguments about the cracker and the bit of goo are so bitter because each side starts with different premises and reasons from there to conclusions that the other side is populated by demons or madmen. For this reason, we each have to acknowledge our own premises and those of our interlocutors. Humans are by-and-large reasonable creatures. We have the ability to reason from the other fellow's premises. I think we should do so periodically to remind ourselves that the fellows on the other side are not demons.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hubris is not Triumph

While I was vacationing last week, the junior Senator from Illinois, a fellow with less than two hundred days' worth of experience in that post, went on a tour of some foreign countries. I'm told that a lot of crowds full of people who do not vote in American elections showed enthusiastic support.

This fellow, whose press coverage is generally characterized as messianic, went to Jerusalem and the wailing wall. Though I didn't see any pictures (being on vacation) I suppose his campaign staffers plastered it with campaign posters.

One of Bill & Hillary's press tricks was to stage some phony photo op and then feign outrage. I did hear that the Lord Messiah's prayer left at the wailing wall was pilfered and published. I've every confidence it was as sincere as it was focus-group tested.

I read the New York Times claim of this trip that "even Republicans have described as politically triumphant." Though I missed the pictures of the Lord Obama riding into Jerusalem on the foal of an ass with adoring palm frond waving crowds crying Hosanna, I won't deny the New York Times its Palm Sunday.

Though I once called myself a Republican and have no reason to vote for the senior Senator from Arizona, I would characterize the junior Senator from Illinois' trip as manifesting as much hubris as anything.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Kooks And Nukes

One of the side effects of paying $4.00/gal for gas is the reminder of what politicians said about domestic energy policy a generation ago. We heard all sorts of things about energy independence that was empty rhetoric. Meanwhile, the Saudis paid for a nice park downtown next to the Gerald Ford museum. I figure oil producers have spread around a lot of petrodollars in a bipartisan fashion to get us where we are today. And what do we do about it? Mr. Bush goes to the Middle East and asks the Sheiks nice to increase production. And Mr. Obama tells us our thermostats are set too high.

I've believed a lot of lies spread by malthusans. For one thing, there was an argument about nuclear power plant safety where Navy said they could guarantee nuclear power plant safety and the non-navy guys said that there was a chance of a cascade of rare events that would lead to a nuclear accident. As a believer in the Murphy, I believed the latter. This belief was vindicated by Three Mile Island and Chernobl.

The biggest disaster of TMI was that it gave credibility to Jane Fonda when "The China Syndrome" movie came out at the same time. Nobody died and nobody got cancer from any radiation released by that event.

Chernobl is another story. People died. But think about it. There was a core meltdown and for ten days the Chernobl reactor was out of control. There was no containment of radiation or radioactive fallout.

And the world did not end.

Last spring a friend and I flew over two electrical power plants, a coal-fired and a nuke. The first thing I noticed about the coal-fired plant was the huge amount of space allocated to storing coal with trains bringing more coal in all the time. Coal is not 100% pure carbon. It's a mix of whatever else is in the ground nearby. And when it burns what do you suppose comes out with the smoke, but fly ash. I was surprised to learn recently that there are trace amounts of radioactive materials in that fly ash. If you live downwind of a power plant, you'll get less radiation from it if it's a nuke.

Safe and clean natural gas can also contain trace amounts of radon gas. Radon gas is radioactive and the biggest cause of cancer after cigarette smoking.

But nuclear fission produces nuclear waste that remains deadly for thousands of years, right? Yes. But it doesn't have to. If your president isn't an idiot peanut farmer, you can reprocess nuclear fuel rods to remove unburnt fissionables, greatly reducing the volume of nuclear waste.

Or you can use a different nuclear fuel cycle. Nuclear fission seems to be all about neutrons. And when you burn enriched uranium, the fission products like to soak up neutrons poisoning the reaction. But there are other fission fuel cycles that do not depend upon enriched uranium, and manage neutron flux differently. These reactions produce much less nuclear waste and what they produce has a half-life of a few centuries, not several millenia. Moreover, there's a lot more thorium than uranium on this planet.

And a thorium fuel cycle generates no bomb-grade isotopes, eliminating the risk of proliferation.

And when you're talking about radioactive waste, you should consider the uranium mine in Oklo where a fission reaction burned up all the U235 leaving its fission products safely encapsulated in situ.

So, why is it that we haven't built a new nuclear power plant in this country for a generation? For one thing, it's plain ignorance and gullibility of the public and the media in the face of propaganda by anti-nuclear activists. For another thing, it costs a lot of time and money to license a new nuclear plant. Look at the billions that were lost by Consumers' Power when they dropped the Midland plant. The only way they could have been stupider would have been to buy energy futures from Enron. Putting a lot of money in a decades-long project that's subject to the whims of politicians, bureaucrats and judges is as risky as it gets.

The people who own and operate nuclear power plants know this. They have a license to print money and more nukes would just mean more competitors. They can uprate their reactors, and make incremental improvements, but they'll do nothing revolutionary.

And that's why we're paying so much for energy.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Who Owns This World?

A while back a politician said this:
"We can't drive our SUVs and, you know, eat as much as we want and keep our homes on, you know, 72 degrees at all times, whether we're living in the desert or we're living in the tundra, and then just expect every other country is going to say OK, you know, you guys go ahead keep on using 25 percent of the world's energy, even though you only account for 3 percent of the population..."
This reminds me of the environmentalists of my youth. Back then the line was that the US had 6 percent of the world's population and we consumed a third of the world's resources. This pattern of rhetoric has an unstated premise that the world should be divided into equal parts and distributed in equal shares to each person in the world today.

This sounds reasonable until you think about it. Who owns this world? If you think this planet is owned by its 6.7 billion inhabitants in equal shares, then how is this ownership reallocated when the population of the world increases? For instance, if I were to kill my fellow-man, my shares increase. Or if I have a dozen kids, my family will have an inordinately larger share.

The people who think this way generally think having a dozen kids is a bad idea. Same goes for killing one's fellow-man.

Property and ownership doesn't work this way in a capitalist society. I happen to own the house I'm typing this from and the land it sits on. None of the world's 6.7 billion people have helped me pay the taxes, improve the property, or maintain it. If someone gets hurt on my property, none of those 6.7 billion people will accept legal liability.

There is only way to consistently understand "using 25 percent of the world's energy, even though you only account for 3 percent of the population" in 2008, and say "The U.S. has 6 percent of the world's population but consumes a third of the world's resources" in the 1970s, is to have a continuous redistribution of wealth with the ebb and flow of demographics.

This notion of property is a form of collectivism. The criteria isn't necessarily Marxist because we're not talking about a Robin Hood redistribution from rich to poor, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," but it is redistribution nonetheless.

This rhetoric has been part and parcel of the environmentalist movement for my entire life. I'm not in favor of polluted air or water, but I believe in private property. When someone owns something they take care of it. When nobody really owns something, they don't.

There's more to this world than consumption. There's production and wealth creation. People work with varying degrees of effectiveness. With capital equipment and technology, one can increase one's productivity by orders of magnitude. One of those 6.7 billion people scratching at dirt with a stick will produce much less grain than a farmer with a tractor and hybrid seeds. Few environmentalists bother to point out that Americans produce a disproportionate amount of the world's wealth.

This collectivist notion of property does not correspond to economic reality. Governments throughout the 20th century demonstrated that they could repeal the laws of economics. However that does not mean politicians can't promise this to attract voters.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Load Just Got Heavier

This story starts in June of 1978 when I graduated from college. There was a bunch of us who hung together, Mike, Clyde, Cindy, and Deb. Mike and I were graduating, and Cindy's folks came to see Mike graduate. They brought along some folks from Cindy's church, Grace Baptist Church of Laurel, MD--including the new pastor there, Colin Smith. He was just a couple years older than us.

The guy was a walking party waiting to happen.

After graduation, I went to MSU, got a Masters' degree and after that got a job with the gubmint. The job was near Laurel, and six weeks after my wife and I were married, we moved there. It was an adventure, living away from home, getting settled in a strange place, and making friends in a new church, Grace Baptist Church where Colin Smith was pastoring.

We lived out there for three years and it wasn't unusual for Mary and me to spend a Friday evening with Colin and Anita watching Kurosawa movies in Japanese with subtitles. Sunday nights after church we'd go to the parsonage and play Rook and eat pizza. I played the best Rook of my life back then.

One Sunday night instead of Rook at the parsonage, we went for ice cream sundaes. We'd gotten nicely settled in and Anita started counting kids. They had five kids all five-years-old or younger. She came up one short. The youngest, little Colin, had been forgotten at church!

Another time Colin took a community-ed class in Chinese. He told the story that at the end of the class the teacher took the class to an authentic Chinese Restaurant. But when they tried to order in Chinese, the waitress gave them a dumb look and said, "I don't understand you. I'm Korean." He'd tell stories with such obvious glee that it was impossible to be around him without having a good time and feeling the lightness of his spirit.

All this happened over 25 years ago. These pleasant memories are a treasure.

But the year 2002 was generally an unhappy one. I had been diagnosed with cancer and spent the previous year in chemo. My father, whose surviving cancer made me think I could beat it too, had his cancer come back. And he wasn't doing well. I'd been sick in January, been CT-scanned, and biopsied to see if the cancer had returned. The results were due the next Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Colin Smith had gotten his PhD in ancient languages at Cornell and was teaching Old Testament Hebrew at Baptist Bible College of Clarks Summit, PA. And the Dead Sea Scrolls were on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Colin and a dozen of his BBC students therefore came to Grand Rapids to look at them.

This entailed finding housing for Colin and Anita as well as the students. Colin's daughter-in-law just happens to be a Grand Rapids native and the daughter of some friends from Trinity Baptist Church. The bulk of the students ended up bunking at their house and we got a call asking if we had an extra bedroom for Colin and Anita. OF COURSE WE DID.

Thus, they stayed with us. It was the first time we'd seen Colin and Anita since we'd left Maryland over twenty years before. He was a lot grayer than I remembered and I suppose I was, too. But the humor and quick wit and merry spirit were just as I remembered. We spent Saturday night sitting around the kitchen table and had a wonderful time. It felt like no time had lapsed before. We just picked up our friendship where we'd left it back in 1983.

That Monday we took off work and went to see the Dead Sea Scrolls with Colin and his students. It's a lot more fun to go through an exhibit like that with a PhD expert in such things who can read hieroglyphics and who summons a bright student, points to a 2000-year-old scroll of Psalms, and commands the kid, "Read that." It was a thoroughly wonderful, carefree afternoon.

Did I mention that I was waiting for cancer test results? We got home and there was a message on the machine. I called back, the test was positive, the cancer was back. Dad had died of cancer the October before. I went into a funk.

But that weekend, having seen the Dead Sea Scrolls that are thousands of years old, having seen Colin and Anita, having been blessed by their fellowship. It contextualized the bad news and made it bearable. And we bore up under it.

That weekend my kids, Jane and Dan, got a chance to meet Colin and see his BBC students. They were impressed, Jane almost went to BBC. (She's saving the world another way.) Nevertheless, when Colin Smith and some other guys went to Lake Ann Baptist Camp to hold a week-long seminar for teenagers, Jane and her friend Lindsay went to learn from him. They were less impressed by the other preachers there.

Just this last Friday, Jane's friend Laura got married. Laura's sister is that same daughter-in-law of Colin Smith, and her husband Colin's son, Ben, was there. Looking at Ben wrangling his son, Bond, I thought of how Ben has the best of Colin and Anita. We spoke at the reception and he has that same quick wit and sense of humor. I was reminded that I missed my friend, Colin Smith.

This long rambling discourse started in 1978 and it comes back there. My friend Cindy, who introduced me to Colin Smith way back there in Ohio, called this afternoon. She said she had been speaking to her parents. They told her Colin Smith died today. Oddly, this weekend I reflected, for no reason, upon the demise of other friends. My mom and dad and other family members. None struck me as hard as news of Colin's passing.

When my Dad died, my step-sister's husband said that he was quite a guy. That's true. I told him then that Dad set an example, now its up to us to set example. I look at my college professors, my pastors, my parents, and I see that I stand on their shoulders and they are giants. When giants like Colin Smith leave this world, they leave a gap for others to fill.

What is the Colin-Smith-shaped void in this world tonight?
Here's a better description than I can write.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Was That You On The Couch With Nancy Pelosi?

I am reputed to be a Conservative and Republican.

Thus I get a lot of spam from the right side of the beg-o-sphere (the spectrum of people sending out pleas for cash lest the republic will fall). The way to understand politics in America is simple. You've got Republicans and Democrats who each have their heroes and antichrists. The heroes of the Republicans tend to be the antichrists of the Democrats and vice versa. For instance, Neutron Newt Gingrich was instrumental in taking control of Congress away from Democrats for the first time in my lifetime. This made him a hero or an antichrist depending upon whether you pull the D or the R lever on election day.

It's an effective system, you write ad copy that says, "send us money, or else (insert name and picture here) will take over Washington and corrupt our precious bodily fluids." Then do a mass mailing to everyone who thinks (insert name and picture here) is the antichrist, and wait for the money to come rolling in.

So, imagine my surprise when I get an email talking about high gasoline prices (about which I am furious), from good ole Newt Gingrich saying, "Drill Here, Drill Now." I found it a compelling pitch. Until I remembered the picture of him and Nancy Pelosi sitting on the "global warming" couch. Oh, that's right, Mr. Gingrich believes that the burning of fossil fuels will cause global warming and said something should be done.

What should be done about global warming? We can solve it. We should burn less fossil fuels. How? By making gas so expensive that most people can't afford to buy it. So, whenever I complain about the price of gasoline, I remember that global warming couch and the people who've made ads sitting thereon.

So, Mr. Gingrich, which is it? Do I believe your spam in my in-box saying we should "Drill Here, Drill Now" or do I believe what you said on the couch next to Nancy Pelosi? Or maybe I'll choose to believe nothing coming out of Washington.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Fellowship of the Two-Cycle Fumes

This story starts 30 years ago. While I was away at grad school my dad and brother, Mark, went to Muskegon and bought Mark's first moped. Over the years my little brother has accumulated quite a stash of mopeds. The total number of mopeds he owns is classified.

And a couple years ago he ran into the Ghost Riders.

Then Mark turned me onto my Honda Metro II scooter a couple of months ago. I figure he didn't think I was ready for a moped. Between then and now, every Monday has either been cold or rainy or busy. Tonight was busy, too, but a meeting got canceled. So, I called my brother.

"Where you at?" I asked. Not much for phone etiquette, I know.

"In my garage," Mark answered. He's cool with the lack of phone etiquette.

"I can be there in the time it takes to get my scooter from my house to yours. You going to Founders?"

"Sure. Come on over."

I got to Mark's house on the other side of town then the two of us drove to Founders microbrewery downtown. I got there and saw about 30 mopeds parked, but only about three scooters. And my 2nd-cousin Lee was there who I hadn't seen in 25 years. He was riding the orange Motobecaine Mark helped him find last year. I looked over the various mopeds parked there. It was a cool sight.

I figure that although I like my scoot, I'll probably be riding my wife's "pink Puch" to subsequent Ghost Riders meetings. I'm buying the pink Puch as soon as Mark gets it running. It's not pink, really, sort of a champaign color. The people have about a half-dozen old guys like me and Mark, but mostly a bunch of kids in their 20s.

After a few minutes of introductions to Mark's friends in the Ghost Riders, we all took off on a ride. My little Honda has this gentle, purring, 4-cycle engine that would never disturb anyone's sleep and its exhaust emissions have a bouquet not dissimilar to rose-water, in my unbiased opinion. This is in contrast to the sound and fury of over two dozen 2-cycle engines. These brethren of the chain-saw engine were belching so much smoke that I could sense Rachel Carlson spinning in her grave. Spotted Owls, no doubt, quaked in their nests this night.

I was unfamiliar with the protocol. The first stop on our ride was to the gas station, where we all bragged about our mileage. A fitting start as we extended a two-wheeled, two-cycle, 100mpg middle finger to the foreign despots who've doubled the price of gasoline of late.

My brother brought his dog in the bike trailer he's modified for canine transport. It's a chick magnet (which would work better if he was more than two years younger than me), but it means he tends to stay near the back of the pack. Since I was the new guy, I kept with him.

However, since I was running flat-out most of the time and sometimes felt a need for more power on hills or catching up, I figure I'll be doing some performance mods on my scooter.

Other guys have some very fast rides. Oddly, these guys would stay near the back then zoom to the front whenever we came upon a red light, where they'd stay in the middle of the intersection until everyone had gotten through. They would act as sheep dogs keeping the herd together. I wonder if the police would approve.

It was great fun to course through the streets of Grand Rapids in a roaring horde of mopeds. A mobile cloud of two-cycle exhaust fumes. After the ride, Mark and I went back to his house and we hung out for a while before I scootered home well after 11:00pm.

I've heard that scooters and mopeds are a fad. Maybe so, but I had a great time with my brother tonight.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Hollywood Stupid Tax

Imagine the following scenario: soldiers of an enemy nation invade this country, kill several US servicemen, seize control of a government base, kidnap a college professor and coerce him to help them steal government property.

Further, after this college professor escapes imagine foreign agents of this same enemy nation threaten and attempt to kidnap him at gunpoint in broad dailight in a crowded restaurant.

If such things were to occur, wouldn't the citizens and government of the US be justified to feel some anxiety, almost paranoia in response?

The opening scenes of the latest Indiana Jones movie show those very crimes being perpetrated against Professor Jones and his young side-kick Mutt. And though I thought it unbelievable that the Soviets could mount such attacks on US soil, I was willing to go along for the sake of the story.

My complaint is that after this narrative setup, Messrs. Lucas and Spielberg feel obligated to pay the Hollywood stupid tax and invoke the dread scourge of McCarthyism. So be it, but I find it then altogether incongruous that Indiana Jones should then express the customary Hollywood sentiment that the Communists are really no big worry.

Either the Commies were credible antagonists OR the Red Scare was justified. You can't have it both ways.

The problem is that Stalinists make effective antagonists. Lucas and Spielberg know this and I think they did a good job of making them appear suitably evil. It's a pity they could not be true to their art.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Lindsey Graham for Veep

Given the current state of the Republican party, Mr. McCain is challenged to find a running-mate who clearly understands his vision and where he wants to take the party. Afterall, Mr. McCain is no young man, so he needs to make it clear that the future course of the party will be consistent with his vision. Mindful of this, I suggest Senator Lindsey Graham as his running mate.

Over the course of the last several years, Mr. Graham has been the Senator more likely to articulate policies most congruent with Mr. McCain's. Moreover, no less a Republican than Rush Limbaugh has taken to calling Mr. Graham "vice president" over the course of the last several years. So, come on Republicans, our party has nominated the Maverick, give us more.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Evolution In A Bucket

When I was a tender lad, the origins argument consisted of two competing narratives roughly equivalent to the partisans in conflict in the old Spencer Tracy movie, "Inherit The Wind." You either believe the dates printed in your Schofield Reference Bible, or you think you're a monkey's nephew.

Later, when in college, I learned that Creationists distinguish between Evolution in the small and Evolution in the large. Specifically, Creationists assert that we have verified proof with things like fruit flies, domesticated animals, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria that selective breeding and mutation can change the morphology of animals. But the evolution we see in the lab, and that we see in nature, is only evolution WITHIN species, not BETWEEN species.

Quite frankly, this distinction between micro and macro evolution seems to have the fossil record going for it. Though we see a lot of different fossils, we don't find a lot of "missing links." If Darwinian evolution explains the presence of millions of distinct species on this planet, then Darwinian evolution posits the existence of many millions more transitional forms between those species. When this complaint was first raised, well over a century ago, the reply was that "we haven't dug them up yet." Time has gone by and the transitional forms remain missing and the reply is twofold: not everything gets fossilized and missing links don't last many generations. The theory is called "punctuated equilibrium." Still it bothers me that there are so many species and so few (any?) transitional fossils. I'm no geologist, I may be wrong, so if there are lots of fossilized missing links out there, I'd like to hear of it.

I am more familiar with mathematical optimization and computer algorithms. Over the last couple decades I've heard of "genetic algorithms" or "evolutionary algorithms" that have been applied in some contexts, but when I'd read more, the details would get fuzzy and I'd lose the thread of what was being described.

However, in a completely different context, I heard a scientist describe an algorithm he called a "simulated anneal" that I could understand quite handily. Let's suppose you have a problem of connecting various things much like the atoms of a metal. Each connection contributes positively or negatively to some objective function. You want to come up with the "global minima" of the objective function. There are too many connections to exhaustively try them all. What to do? One approach is to look at every pair of atoms and make the link that's "best" then connect those pairs of atoms to the pair that's "best" and so on until everything's connected.

This is called a "greedy algorithm" and it often produces a poor result, getting caught in what's called a "local minima" of the objective function. This process is like dropping a marble in a bucket and letting it roll to the lowest point it finds. The trouble is that if the floor of the bucket is shaped inconveniently, say like a mountain range, you may find the marble trapped in a mountain valley whereas had it been dropped elsewhere it would have rolled to the lowland plains.

If this isn't good enough, if you need to get the marble to the bottom of the bucket, you need to dislodge it from its local minima. How do you do this? By shaking the bucket.

In the algorithm I described above, this is analogous to replacing the deterministic rule that I'll make the "best connections" with another rule. I'll add a random variable, analogous to temperature of an annealing vat of metal, to all pair-wise scores and decide whether to link or not on the basis of score+temperature. This biases the solution in the right way, but it doesn't lock it into local minima.

The idea is that over time if you repeatedly perform the process above, the solution (or marble in the bucket) will probabilistically spend more time in better local minimas. By slowly reducing the temperature, you get a solution that's much more likely to be better than you'd get from the greedy algorithm. This process is analogous to the formation of crystal domains in an annealed vat of metal.

Now, there's nothing biological in the last five paragraphs. It's just math and considerations of systems behaving not unlike what you see in soap bubbles or heat-treated metal. I was surprised when someone told me THAT algorithm I just described is also termed an evolutionary algorithm.

Does this mean that any algorithm that includes a random element and an objective function (i.e. fitness) can be termed Evolutionary? This furrows my brow because it makes the notion very expansive. I don't think of soap bubbles settling into minimum energy configurations in this way. I can't think of any Creationist who can have a problem with this sort of mathematics.

Now, could we by selective breeding do the same sort of optimization on successive generations of an animal? Isn't this what the fruit fly experiments demonstrate?

The Bible was written before Carl Linnaeus devised his system of classification. Thus the Creationist must tread lightly. My college Bible classes used the "baramin" which combines two Hebrew words, "bara" and "min." The Hebrew word "min" is translated "kind" but I think this word does NOT mean species in a Linnaeus sense. The phenomena in the Bible is procreation. Those parts of the Bible which speak of animals bringing forth "after their own kind" are places where this Hebrew is employed. Could the word "kind" merely reflect an animal's genotype? That is, does the Bible intend to convey only that the animals delivered their own DNA (with mutations perhaps) to the next generation?

Suppose, for sake of argument that we engage in a program of selective breeding among dogs. So much so that we come up with one breed of dog that cannot successfully mate with another breed. If this occurred, could we claim that speciation had occurred? Would this PROVE the Bible is wrong? I rather doubt it.

I don't know what the Creationist or the Evolutionist would say to this. However, when I've thought in these terms, the lines have tended to blur. No doubt both sides will want to burn me as a heretic.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Where Is The Archimedean Point?

I've been a bit troubled with thoughts of Descartes and his "cogito ergo sum" and trying to figure out exactly what it is that's bothering me.

Tonight, listening to The White Horse Inn I heard the term Archimedean Point. The immediate context was not Cartesian solipsism, but a sort of gnostic quietism. They were talking about "Barnes & Nobel Christianity" and all the self-help gospel types who provide spiritual "secrets" of looking inward in a sort of post-verbal, certainly post-rational, way.

The White Horse guys are masters of snark. And they laid into these people they termed gnostics with delicious sarcasm. Of course, they were unfair in their criticism, but they have a valid point and they miss a valid point that they oughtn't.

First, let me agree with the White Horse guys. It is wrong to tell people to "look inside yourself" for the divine. Luther was right when he said, "simul justus et peccator." If you tell a sinner to look within, you should also warn that person to expect to see sin when he does so. This is where the White Horse guys hit it out of the park. Calvin called the human heart "an idol factory." The Bible calls the human heart "desperately wicked" and "deceitful." Its greatest deceit is excusing and rationalizing away sin. Shame on any putative Christian preacher who blows off this point.

Second, let me disagree with the White Horse guys. My Bible tells me that as a believer in Christ, I have an indwelling Holy Spirit. And my bible also states that, despite the fall, I'm made in the image of God. Thus, when I "look within" I shouldn't be surprised to find God indwelling and God imaged in the architecture of my psyche. The White Horse guys need to be a little more charitable.

Putting these together, what do we get? If you look into my psyche, you'll find a mix of the sinful and the divine. Alexander Solzenitzen says the battle line between good and evil runs through the center of every man's heart. Thus, I'll have to test what I find within myself to see if it really is the divine or whether it is sinful self-deception.

How am I going to do that? That's where I heard Archimedean Point and thought it important. Archimedes said, "give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world." Upon what does Descartes stand when he says, "cogito ergo sum?" Nothing outside himself. As the guy on Mythbusters says, "there's your problem."

If you fail to establish an Archimedean Point outside yourself, that relativizes yourself and everything in your world, you've nothing to push against. You're like the astronaut in zero-gee pushing on a lever and flying backwards in reaction.

This is where God comes in. Three decades ago I gave my presentation in Epistemology class and the critique I heard was that it wasn't Cristocentric enough. You need a Christocentric Archimedean point.

Now, let's suppose you believe in orthodox protestant Christianity. Then you understand that God has disclosed himself in verbal propositional terms in Scripture. Thus, when you "seek God within yourself" you should not be surprised when a lot of Bible verses come to mind. Those are Bible verses that are made out of WORDS and those words hang together RATIONALLY. At least, that's how it is with me. When God speaks to me, when he delivers a "word of knowledge" it is through a Bible verse popping into my head unbidden.

That's what you do. If your heart says something ridiculous about having an adulterous affair, take a delivery from the clue train Exodus 20:14, you're hearing the deceitful part. If your heart says you're doing something wrong and it can provide chapter-and-verse, you're hearing the divine.